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How to Work a Room

… and other Charm School lessons

“Don’t let the room work you,” counsels Dedric Carter ‘99, MEng ‘99, executive director of the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. As a Charm School instructor at the Alumni Leadership Conference in September, Carter mapped out these strategies for overcoming fears that can undercut successful networking and social encounters:

•Plan for success by dressing appropriately. “More is better than less,” Carter says, “because you can always dynamically dress down.” And always bring your business cards.

•Make your first encounter with a new person powerful by being prepared with an engaging seven- to nine-­second introduction. Practice it before you go. “Think about saying your name last, since people tend to remember the last thing that you say,” he says.

•Show that you are open to each new person by maintaining eye contact and listening more than you speak.

•Be willing to risk rejection, and if an encounter does not go well, just move on to the next conversation.

•Impromptu conversations are the core of networking, so be prepared with two or three topics. You could, for example, state an opinion and follow with two or three reasons to support it. Also, have a few questions in mind that will help you learn about others.

•Be positive and be polite. And don’t forget to follow up with a note or e-mail if you want to develop the relationship.

To put Carter’s networking suggestions to maximum use, follow the Charm School advice of Lola Ball ‘91 on making small talk. She recommends starting or contributing to conversations using public-speaking expert Sasha ZeBryk’s BRAVO approach:

B: Behavior of the other person–Your talk was great; how do I learn more?

R: Relevance–How do you know the bride/groom?

A: Appearance–Love that bracelet. Where did you get it?

V: Verbal cues–What a great accent! Where are you from?

O: Occasion–Is this your first ALC?

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